In vitro laboratory and in vivo animal models support the biologic plausibility that chronic infection is a potential cause of asthma.1,2 Arising from that hypothesis, macrolide antibiotics have been the subject of clinical trials and other studies to determine whether these drugs are efficacious in the long-term management of asthma in adults and children. Macrolides might also have immunomodulatory and antiviral properties that can benefit patients with asthma.3
This article looks at the evidence and clinical scenarios for the use of macrolides in asthma, provides proposed dosing schedules, and reviews associated concerns, including adverse effects, risk of bacterial resistance, and cost.
3 cases to consider
CASE 1 Paul D developed severe, refractory asthma at 30 years of age after an acute respiratory illness. At age 40, he was treated with 14 weekly doses of azithromycin. His asthma resolved slowly over 12 months.
Outcome. Mr. D has remained free of symptoms of asthma for more than 20 years.
CASE 2 Casey K developed severe wheezing at 18 months of age after an acute respiratory illness. Refractory asthma symptoms persisted until 6 years of age, at which time he was given 12 weekly doses of azithromycin. Asthma symptoms gradually resolved.
Outcome. Casey was able to resume normal physical activities, including competitive swimming.
CASE 3 Amy S, who had no history of respiratory problems, presented at 30 years of age with a 3-month history of wheezing and dyspnea after an acute respiratory illness. She was treated symptomatically with bronchodilators; wheezing failed to resolve. After 6 months of persistent wheezing that significantly affected her exercise capacity, Ms. S was given a diagnosis of persistent asthma and received 12 weekly doses of azithromycin.
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